Joe Pike - ex-marine, ex-LAPD officer, ex-mercenary for hire
(Jump over to read a review of The First Rule)
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(Reviewed by Hagen Baye OCT 11, 2008)
"I chase the darkness to make room for the light."
Like the more recent books of Robert Crais's Elvis Cole/Joe Pike private eye series, the latest, Chasing Darkness, focuses on a crisis involving Elvis Cole, in this case a crisis of confidence due to the possibility that Cole helped to free a murder suspect who turned out to be a serial killer who proceeded to kill some more. In The Last Detective, Cole's (now former) girlfriend's son is kidnapped while in his care and Cole is challenged with the tasks of saving the boy and salvaging his relationship with his beloved Lucy, and in The Forgotten Man, Cole learns that a dead man's dying words claimed that he is the father that Cole never met--and Cole has to deal with overwhelming feelings of rejection, both by the father he never knew and by Lucy who returned to Louisiana. After the earlier books in the series that focused on Cole's (assisted by Pike) handling client's cases and the not insignificant challenges those cases involved, in the latter books Crais has fleshed out this Elvis Cole character as he faces his vulnerabilities and insecurities. (Even in the immediately previous book of the 12 book series, The Watchman, the one and only one that is "A Joe Pike Novel" (the other 11 all being "Elvis Cole Novels"), pertains to both Pike's guarding a client and the filling in of the blanks regarding Pike's past and his soft spots.)
Chasing Darkness opens with cops barging into Cole’s office demanding his files about a murder suspect who was exonerated based on alibi evidence Cole uncovered three years prior. That man’s dead body, in an apparent suicide, is found in his house with evidence that point to his being the killer of seven women, including the murder of the woman for which Cole got the charges dropped, as well as two subsequent murders. Cops found Lionel Byrd with a photo album that consists of pictures of each of the seven victims, each obviously taken moments before their respective gruesome deaths, and each could have only been taken by someone who was present at the time each woman was killed. The camera that took these "portraits of evil" was also found in Byrd's house. The book and camera both had Byrd’s fingerprints all over them. In cop lingo, this among other tidbits constituted a strong "chain of reason" connecting Byrd to the seven murders.
The confidence of the self-proclaimed World’s Greatest Detective is shaken. Cole is disturbed that he may have permitted a serial killer to walk and to kill again. The alibi that exonerated Byrd was based on the last time a witness saw victim #5 alive in Silver Lake before her body was found there, compared with a time coded security camera which placed Byrd in Hollywood, some 16 miles away at the same time the woman was being killed. It would have been physically impossible for Byrd to have killed her in Silver Lake and get to Hollywood so quickly. On this basis, Byrd's attorney convinces the judge and the DA to drop the charges against Byrd, notwithstanding Byrd's confession, which the attorney contended was coerced by the police.
Cole struggles with doubts about the alibi that freed Byrd. If the key witness were off by a half-hour, Byrd would have the time to kill the woman and drive to Hollywood. This possibility was reinforced by what a cop tells Cole: "Physical evidence trumps eyewitness evidence every time.…" Cole's doubts increase when Byrd's attorney is himself convinced by the evidence the cops discovered at Byrd's house.
Despite the disconcerting doubts and the accusations hurled at him by the police ("[Cole] conned the DA into letting this murderer go.") and by the brothers of the last victim, Cole could not give into those doubts and accusations, because based on his initial investigation of Byrd, the man just did not fit the profile of a sexual predator. Instead of being discreet and secretive, Byrd was loud and obnoxious.
Seeing how vexed Cole was by this all, Pike called Lucy and enlisted her to lend Cole some moral support. She calls and encourages him: "You told me the facts were on their side. If you don't like their facts, find your own facts. That's what you do, World's Greatest. No one does it better." And off Cole goes to dig even deeper.
Applying his resourceful investigative skills, Cole finds that the special police task force created to handle the case is handling things contrary to standard police investigatory protocol. It does not follow up with potential significant clues (like a security DVD which may have captured the last murder) and important witnesses, like Cole's key witness and the woman who did Byrd's shopping, as Cole learns that a foot injury had in recent times rendered Byrd a home bound invalid. Also, the task's force's investigation is segmentalized with each segment unaware of what the other has found, with only the higher ups being in a position to put all the pieces together. Cole had the distinct impression that the police was ramming Byrd's guilt down everyone's throat despite so many open questions.
The last victim was an apprentice at a political consultant firm. While that firm cooperated generally with the investigation of her murder, it was extremely reluctant to reveal the identity of its male clients, on the basis that the mere questioning by police of their clients in a murder case could be used against them by their political opponents. Instead, the deputy chief who headed the task force personally handled the questioning in a discreet and confidential manner. However, Cole learns that the deputy chief is himself a client of that firm, as he has political aspirations himself. Cole later discovers that another client of that firm is a certain politician who is the deputy chief’s political sponsor. The deputy chief, for his part, has been that pol’s “fixer,” for years getting the pol out of career threatening jams, including two involving assaults against women. The relationship with this pol could explain the deputy chief's career's skyrocketing from sergeant to deputy chief in a mere seven years. When Cole learns that that pol was in the company of the first and last victims the nights each were killed, Cole—and the readers—become certain that the deputy chief is abating the pol to get away with multiple murders to advance his own political ambitions. And when Cole finds the deputy chief removing task force evidence from police custody and bringing it to his house, where the opportunity for manipulation and distortion is infinite, this confirms Cole's ---and the readers' suspicions--about this pol's guilt and the deputy chief's complicity with it. However, even the casual reader of better crime fiction, the kind that Crais writes, is troubled at this juncture, not because of any lack of logical basis, but rather because it is just too obvious. Devotees of crime fiction expect the unexpected; among other things, the unexpected is what makes a mystery novel mysterious. One does not need Sherlock Holmes or Elvis Cole to uncover the obvious. So, of course, the obvious is not the case here and Crais does not disappoint, for from this point of the story Crais finesses several remarkable twists and turns that will wreak havoc on the assumptions and conclusions of its characters, including Cole (and the reader), and the end result is a head shaking surprise and satisfying reading experience.
Chasing Darkness will further advance Robert Crais's stature as one of the finer crime fiction writers of our time--and of his Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series as one of the more fascinating private eye series. How Crais has filled in the blanks of this series' characters as more and more books are added to it, particularly the evolution of Cole from an ever-cocky to a more humble, fuller person, is rich subject matter for the student of crime fiction.
- Amazon readers rating: from 110 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Chasing Darkness at the author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)Elvis Cole / Joe Pike series:
- The Monkey's Raincoat (1988) /
- Stalking the Angel (1989)
- Lullaby Town (1992)
- Free Fall (1993)
- Voodoo River (1995)
- Sunset Express (1996)
- Indigo Slam (1997)
- L.A. Requiem (1999)
- The Last Detective (January 2003)
- The Forgotten Man (February 2005)
- Chasing Darkness (July 2008)
Joe Pike / Elvis Cole Series:
Movies from books:
- Hostage (2005)
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- The official Robert Crais Web site
- Guardian interview with Robert Crais
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Forgotten Man
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Last Detective
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Watchman
- LA Times review of Chasing Darkness
- The New York Sun review of Chasing Darkness
- Material Witness review of Chasing Darkness
- MostlyFiction.com review of The First Rule
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Sentry
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About the Author:
Robert Crais was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, among a family of cops (three uncles and two cousins are, or were, police officers) before moving west to LA in the 1970s. Crais has written TV scripts for Hill Street Blues, Cagney and Lacey, Miami Vice and L.A. Law. His first novel, The Monkey's Raincoat won both an Anthony Award and a Macavity Award. It has since been selected as one of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. His novels have been translated into 36 languages and are bestsellers around the world. Robert Crais is the 2006 recipient of the Ross MacDonald Literary Award.
Robert and his wife live in the Santa Monica mountains.